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Operate a Chain Saw

Starting a Chain Saw.

A chain saw is a useful, powerful tool. Knowing the proper method for operating a chain saw doesn't just help you work more efficiently, it helps you work more safely. Read the user’s manual before operating your saw, so you know how it works, are familiar with all its parts and controls and are aware of safety procedures.

Checking the Chain

Checking a Chain Saw Chain Tension.

If the chain isn’t new, it’s probably a good idea to file it before beginning. Cutting is both easier and safer when the chain is sharp. Also check the tension of the chain and adjust it if needed. Don’t forget that you'll need to retension a new chain after operating the saw for a short period. Your owner's manual should give you instructions for sharpening and tensioning the chain on your specific saw. You can also take a look at Chain Saw Maintenance for tips on maintaining the chain and other parts of the saw.

Turn the saw off before performing maintenance, checks or adjustments. In addition, disconnect the spark plug on a gas-powered saw and disconnect an electric saw from the power source.
Wear heavy work gloves when handling a chain saw chain.

Fuel and Chain Oil

Fueling a Chain Saw.

Most gas-powered chain saws have two-cycle engines, so you'll probably need to mix oil and gasoline. Follow the manufacturer's directions for blending the proper fuel and oil in the correct ratio. Manufacturers may also have recommendations regarding the use of alcohol-blended fuel (such as ethanol). Mix the gasoline and oil in a well-ventilated location. When fueling your saw, use a marked, approved fuel can with overfill protection to avoid unnecessary spillage.

As with fuel, follow the saw manufacturer's instructions for the appropriate chain oil.

Place the chain saw on a stable surface in a well-ventilated area when filling it with fuel and chain oil. Always fuel at least 10 feet away from the work area. Clean up any spills right away.

Before Starting Your Chain Saw

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for use, maintenance and safety, including safety gear. See Chain Saw Safety for more safety information.

Before cranking the saw and starting to cut, protect yourself. ALWAYS wear protective clothing and gear, including:

  • Leg protection such as chaps or cut resistant pants
  • Hard hat
  • Gloves with an enhanced gripping surface and cut resistance
  • Eye protection with side shields
  • Hearing protection such as earplugs or earmuffs
  • Boots or shoes with steel toes and non-skid soles
Some hard hats include built-in hearing protection and a face shield.

Starting Your Chain Saw

You can start an electric chain saw when you're ready to cut by simply activating the trigger. Gas-powered saws require a few more steps. When you’re ready to start a gas-powered chain saw, place the saw flat on the ground and clear the area around the bar. Starting instructions vary by model and manufacturer, so follow the instructions for your specific saw. Start the saw at least 10 feet away from the fueling area.

Keep others at least 15 feet away when you are using the saw. When felling trees, increase this distance to at least twice the height of the tree you are felling.

Checking the Chain Brake and Lubrication

Checking a Chain Saw Chain Break.

If your saw is equipped with a chain brake, you'll need to make sure it works. Place the chain saw on a stable surface and squeeze the throttle. Activate the chain brake by pushing your left wrist against the front hand guard, without releasing the handle. The chain should stop immediately.

Also check the chain lubrication. Hold the chain saw above a light surface, such as a stump, and hit the throttle. A line of oil should be visible on the surface after 10 to 20 seconds of running. If your chain saw has a manual oiling system, you may need to activate it before testing.

Operating the Chain Saw

Cutting with a Chain Saw.

If you’re not familiar with using a chain saw, first get acquainted with it by practicing on a suitable log.

There are some basic rules for using a chain saw. Hold it firmly by both handles. Your thumbs and fingers should completely wrap around the handles. Make sure you hold your left thumb under the front handle to reduce the force of a possible kickback. Take the saw up to full speed before beginning your cut. If you're using a corded chain saw, be careful of the cord and be aware of Power Cord Safety Tips.


Stand to the side of what you're cutting and make sure you have steady footing.

Good Balance

If you hold the saw close to your body, it won’t feel as heavy. Also, you’ll be more balanced and in better control of the saw. Stand with your feet apart.

Bend Your Knees

Don't work with your back bent. Instead, bend your knees if you’re working at a low level.

Pulling and Pushing Chain

You can saw with both the lower and the upper edge of the bar. When using the lower edge, you’re sawing with a pulling chain, which means that the chain pulls the saw away from you. Using the upper edge of the chain, you’re sawing with a pushing chain, so the chain pushes the saw towards you.

There are different potential hazards associated with each cutting method. Make sure you understand the risks of binding, kickback, pushback, pull-in and other hazardous situations. See your manual for safety information and see Chain Saw Safety for additional information.

Never cut with the tip of the saw and be aware that the upper part of the saw tip is the area most prone to causing the chain saw to kick up and back toward you.

Moving Around

When moving around a worksite with a chain saw, make sure the chain isn't rotating by activating the chain brake or turning off the engine. For longer distances, also use a bar guard.